Secrets to a Speedy Drive-thru

By Keith Solomon, Owner, NEF#1 LLC/Popeyes | April 08, 2011

Many factors are responsible for making the drive-thru experience a positive one for customers. But there’s only one major factor that makes a drive-thru business profitable: speed.
 
Because speed at drive-thru windows is such a significant priority, last December management at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen (www.popeyes.com) announced a nationwide “Speed at the Drive-thru” contest that awarded a significant prize to the fastest franchise. The trick, though, was that the franchisee couldn’t just claim to have the fastest drive-thru times; they had to prove it over four consecutive weeks.
 
Many participated in the competition, but it was NEF#1 LLC/Popeyes’ Hamden, Conn. location that won the nationwide contest with a time of 162 seconds, thanks to a drive-thru strategy that combines technology and employee motivation.
 
Top technologies
There are a number of technologies that can increase any QSR’s drive-thru speed, including digital menu boards or tap-and-swipe credit card readers. For our location, drive-thru timers proved to be the integral component to our success. We are leveraging HyperActive Technologies’ (www.gohyper.com) QTimer, a POS-integrated drive-thru measurement system that provides Web-based reporting and transaction-level detail.
 
With QTimer’s detailed reporting system, we were able to document average wait times accurately over the four-week period. We could look at any specific week, then go to a daypart, time of day, and finally an individual order to see what customers were ordering and how long it took to complete that order. In cases where orders took too long to fulfill, we used the QTimer to drill down and isolate the order to determine the source of the problem. Once the issue was identified, we could fix the problem before it recurred.
 
Even though the fastest time that we put up was 162 seconds, we also had the ultimate goal of reaching 180 seconds (from the customer’s order to product delivery) on a consistent basis. Other technologies that attribute to our speedy times are our Xpient (www.xpient.com) point-of-sale (POS) system and the use of multiple headsets. Instead of just having one headset for the cashier, we have three so that the manager on-duty and two employees per shift can hear what customers are ordering. Now, instead of waiting for the cashier to order the food, the manager can start the process right away and start cooking the food immediately.
 
Employee motivation
Although technology is a major factor in increasing drive-thru speeds, employee motivation is just as important. One of the best ways to motivate and promote team building is through the use of contests. Popeyes currently has a national program that awards stores once a year for beating a number of Empathica (www.empathica.com) customer experience parameters; a designation that we have twice qualified for. However, in order to really motivate employees, we initiated an ongoing eight-week program that rewards employees who maintain drive-thru service times under 180 seconds. Managers who qualify during the first four weeks of the contest are awarded $100 in cash or an American Express gift card; crew members win a $10 gift certificate to Wal-Mart. If the same employees participate in the last four weeks of the eight-week contest and win, they are awarded double the prize amount ($200 for managers and $20 for crew members). Employees have been very responsive to this initiative.
In addition to winning Popeyes’ nationwide “Speed at the Drive Thru” contest, our ability to improve drive-thru efficiency has increased profitability. Today, sales are up, the lines are shorter, and our restaurants are busier than ever.
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